Bay Area Atheists/Agnostics/Humanists/Freethinkers/Skeptics Message Board › Top Air Force Official Issues Religious Neutrality Policy in Wake of Truthou

Top Air Force Official Issues Religious Neutrality Policy in Wake of Truthout's "Jesus Loves Nukes" Exposé

user 9892369
San Ramon, CA
Post #: 282
Follow-up to my 7/30/11 post on this story. [Posted in 2 parts]


Top Air Force Official Issues Religious Neutrality Policy in Wake of Truthout's "Jesus Loves Nukes" Exposé
Wednesday 14 September 2011
by: Jason Leopold, Truthout | Report

Part 1 of 2:

A top US Air Force official, in an attempt to ensure the Air Force adheres to the Constitution as well as its own regulations and policies, issued guidelines that calls on "leaders at all levels" to take immediate steps to maintain "government neutrality regarding religion."

In his policy memorandum dated September 1, but sent Tuesday to all major commands, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said, "Leaders ... must balance Constitutional protections for an individual's free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and its prohibition against governmental establishment of religion."

The First Amendment establishes a wall of separation between church and state and Clause 3, Article 6 of the Constitution specifically prohibits a "religious test."

The memo was issued a month after Truthout published an exclusive report [4] revealing how, for two decades, the Air Force used numerous Bible passages and religious imagery to teach nuclear missile officers about the morals and ethics of launching nuclear weapons, a decision that one senior Air Force officer told [4] Truthout last month should have "instantly" resulted in the firing of the commanders who allowed it to take place.

The Air Force suspended the mandatory Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare training immediately following the publication of Truthout's report. David Smith, a spokesman for the Air Education and Training Command told Truthout last month the ethics training "has been taken out of the curriculum and is being reviewed."

"The commander reviewed it and decided we needed to have a good hard look at it and make sure it reflected views of modern society," Smith said.

The decision angered Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) who fired off an angry letter [5] to Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley criticizing the move and demanding Donley provide him with a report detailing "actions taken" by the Air Force that led to the suspension of the ethics training.

But the Air Force went further, pulling all of its training materials "that address morals, ethics, core values and related character development issues" pending a "comprehensive review," Smith told [6] the Air Force Times.

That decision was made after a Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) instructor, who read Truthout's report, sent the Military Religious Freedom Foundation [7] (MRFF), a civil rights organization, copies of ROTC leadership training materials, which also contained Christian-themed citations from the Bible. The PowerPoint slides in the presentation the unnamed instructor sent MRFF are used in all colleges and universities that have an ROTC program.

While Schwartz does not state what prompted him to issue the memorandum, it would appear the media attention surrounding the revelations about the ROTC leadership training and the "Jesus loves nukes" ethics course, which is how one former nuclear missile officer who took the course referred to it during an interview with Truthout [4], played a significant part.

Schwartz said commanders and supervisors, "must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion."

"Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity," Schwartz added. "The potential result is a degradation of the unit's morale, good order and discipline."

Furthermore, he advised Air Force leadership who may have concerns "involving the preservation of government neutrality regarding religious beliefs" to speak with a chaplain and staff judge advocate "before you act."

Mikey Weinstein, MRFF's president and founder, referred to Schwartz's memorandum as a "damn good line drive single to potentially start a rally of Constitutional religious freedom compliance, which has been scandalously lacking in the entire Defense Department for decades." (Full disclosure: Weinstein is a member of Truthout's Board of Advisers.)

Weinstein had provided Truthout with copies of the PowerPoint presentation used during the nuclear ethics training course taught by chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force base in California. MRFF obtained the materials from an Air Force officer who received the documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Weinsten said Schwartz is the "most senior Pentagon official to date to ever send this strong a mandate of Constitutional religious compliance to our United States armed forces members."
"While MRFF wishes that such a letter had been sent by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force a very long time ago, the old adage 'better late than never' most certainly applies," Weinstein said in an email. "Gen. Schwartz has the Air Force at least now 'talking the talk.' Whether the Air Force can 'walk the walk' will depend upon many factors, not the least of which is whether ANYONE in the Air Force is EVER punished for violating its clear mandates of Constitutional recognition for BOTH the No Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the Bill of Rights' First Amendment." (Weinstein's emphasis.)

[cont'd/part 2...]
Miltown H.
Pittsburg, CA
Post #: 45
Wendy, thanks for posting this. I'm actually a bit surprised that someone from the Air Force is owning up to this and agreeing that it needs to change. When approached with questions about religious activities or preferences in at least the recent past, the military's attitude has generally been one of arrogant dismissal, attacking the questioner without even bothering to confirm or deny the charges (similar to the non-denial denials seen in All the President's Men).

American Atheists recently ran an article detailing how much taxpayer money is spent by the military to promote Christianity. Here are a few of many examples given:

The Soldier Fitness Tracker that includes the mandatory Spiritual Fitness testing and the equally mandatory remedial training: $125,000,000

The Spiritual Fitness Center at Fort Hood, Texas (many more to come!) – Often described as a ‘mega church’, the building even has religious stained glass windows. They are stocked with video games, phone cards, and other incentives. Packaged with a religious message. This is in addition to the numerous chapels on every post: $30,000,000

Spiritual Fitness concert series at Fort Lee and Fort Eustis - Invariably evangelical Christian messages and performers. You’re on notice for a future Rock Beyond Belief event, by the way: $678,470 (performer fees only)­
user 9892369
San Ramon, CA
Post #: 285
Unfortunately, the general populace is clueless about this stuff. When presented with the information, they don't readily see a problem or understand why it would be an issue. I get depressed and upset when I read about it.

Constant monitoring and feedback is essential. Thank God for American Atheists and the ACLU and truly free, independent media.

Hallelujah and praise the Loud!

San Quentin, CA
Post #: 9
Yes, thanks for posting this. It's amazing how many people think we are a "christian country" and forget about the codified separation of church and state. Thankfully somebody in the ranks of the military understands this.
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